Sacramento’s Darlings: Agent Ribbons at the Press Club

It’s been a little over a year since I saw Agent Ribbons play, for the first and only time, opening for the Dead Hensons at Old Ironsides. When they had finished their set, I was left with the satisfied feeling that one gets after seeing a very promising band at the beginning. Unfortunately, that summed up what I knew about the band. Shows came and went and I twiddled my thumbs, barely registered their passing until on Monday I finally got the gumption to see them. I even braved the echo chamber that is the Press Club, wary of the fact that I’ve been near deaf for days after going to punk shows there.

Agent Ribbons, of course, is nothing like punk. Their collection of love songs is charming, pleasantly full of sass and embodies a whimsy more along the lines of LA’s the Ditty Bops, though without the signature vocal harmonies and less complex songs. However, the lyrics are intricate and clever; paired with the music, the songs bring to mind the some Anne of Green Gables universe where troubles are something that can be kissed away. Considering that Agent Ribbons boasts a mere two musicians, drummer Lauren Hess and singer/guitarist Natalie Gordon who play without a backing band, they’re also remarkably complete. “Birds and Bees,” a fifties throwback ballad, is filled in on the chorus with a quickly strummed guitar and Lauren’s tom playing keeping time until the music simplifies to the next verse to give attention to the lyrics.

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Shows Shows Shows Galore

The canceled Jason Isbell show last week was a disappointment to many, but to me it brought two fortunate things. First, was a free poster printed for the gig given as a consolation prize. Like the ones that are handed out in San Francisco after shows at the Fillmore or the Warfield or the more local Asbestos Press silk-screened posters you may have seen around town, it’s printed on thick paper that will last being tacked to the wall for at least a year. The design is a symmetrical mirror image split down the center featuring lightning bolts, oil derricks and the front ends of a classic Ford Mustang all on semi-glossy silver. To be honest, I haven’t had the chance to listen to Jason Isbell’s solo effort that he left the Drive-By Truckers for, but the imagery all fits with the down-home working stiff cowpunk that I’ve come to expect from DBT.

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Album Review: Phillip Flathead – Four Track Mind

I saw Phillip Flathead when he opened for Justin Farren at the Fox and Goose months ago and plunked down the five bucks for his CD because it was cheap, but I wasn’t impressed with his performance. Playing solo, he fit in with any number of folk tinged Bob Dylan emulators that you can find in your friendly neighborhood coffee shop. He didn’t hold a candle next to Justin Farren’s wry humor and humble charisma. But Justin Farren has enough of a following in Sacramento that the venue will fall mostly quiet when he starts playing. Phillip Flathead had to contend with the beer soaked echoes of a crowd giving little attention to a guy they didn’t pay to see. It’s hell being an opening act.

It turns out that Phillip is excellent with a band behind him, making his self released album Four Track Mind well worth the cost of a burrito that I sacrificed and more. Playing with a band expands his songs from standard guy with a guitar fare to pleasant guitar and banjo-centered folk spiced with funk bass when he feels like throwing it in (“Slide on By.”) Other songs, like “Hollow Days” would lose its impact without the background strings. Continue reading “Album Review: Phillip Flathead – Four Track Mind”

Controlled Chaos: Man Man at the Blue Lamp

Never had I ever listened to Man Man before I stepped into the Blue Lamp the Friday they were playing, which is something I don’t do for shows in Sacramento that cost more than 5 dollars. But I had found the band during a night spent trolling about on Wikipedia looking up the bands listed on the slip handed to me post-TMBG show and the description was promising. A band that dresses up in war paint and doesn’t take breaks during the set sounded worth it to me, so I put it on my concert calendar. Lo and behold, the next day dear sweet Stickie sent out an e-mail informing me that they were “highly recommended.” Chalk another one on the board for Man Man. Continue reading “Controlled Chaos: Man Man at the Blue Lamp”

Album Review: Be Brave Bold Robot

Be Brave Bold Robot understands you and your twentythirtysomthing heartaches, your existential angst, your weekend drunks and all that whatnot. Shelling out a few bucks for their self-titled album, you’ll see how much as they throw their hearts down on the bare wooden bar top to point out all its scars. The problem is that they really don’t make me care. Instead they throw about songs that vary from maudlin and melodramatic to so saccharine that it’ll make your teeth hurt.

Within the album we have “Gamma Rays” in which lies the revelation of eating pancakes with Grandma, “Shun-shine” a tiny footnote of a song that illustrates how much songwriter Dean Haakenson can drag out a simile and then slap you in the face with it, and “Secrets,” Haakenson’s four and a half minute spoken word track carries the prize for the most odious of lines, with meaningless quotes like “he had the practiced stubble of a civil engineer” and the irritating paradox “silent din of the darkness.” The last is as unnecessary as it is irritating because it’s a prologue, set to explain the premise of “The $1000 Grape Drive-By.”

But BBBR can play and “Those Things” boasts a plunky banjo climax sweeping you into the story of a night out to meet girls. If Haakenson reins it in a little bit, their second album will probably be worth the money you didn’t pay for the first.

They Kind of ARE Giants

For me, the first indication of what the evening was going to be like came whilst arriving at the back of the line with TMBG ticket in hand. As I neared the doors, taped to the wall was a sign on paper that could have popped out of any printer you or I bought proclaiming, approximately “This show 14+, by request of THEY MIGHT BE GIANTS.” Which goes to show what kind of guys TMBG are. These are the guys who managed to put out children’s albums and not lose their fan base because their regular albums sound a bit like children’s albums – if the child in question is the baby from Who Framed Roger Rabbit. That the heavily adult audience gave an extended “yeah!” when the band launched into “The Alphabet of Nations” only goes to show that fans found the children’s albums another acceptable entry in the TMBG discography. But I’m getting ahead of myself.

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Play Punkers Can’t Stop the Rock

Oooookay. There are a couple of angles from which I could begin this review and I don’t know where to start so let me puss out and just lay the my main points out right here. First, the Boardwalk is a less than desirable venue that’s far-the-fuck-away from downtown with security that doesn’t let you go back to your car to get the cell phone that you’ve forgotten unless you want to skip the show that you’ve already paid for, wristband and hand stamp notwithstanding. I have no idea why that is, but I will float the idea that the Boardwalk, being the 18 and over venue that it is, is afraid that the teenyboppers, mall punks, newly-pierced and tatted future hipsters that I’ll want to punch who can’t currently drink will be sneaking out to their cars to take shots of ten dollar vodka and come back to the show and cause a ruckus that security will not want to deal with. It was just my phone dammit. I can understand that dealing with the young’uns can an amazing pain in the ass, but I mean, c’mon.

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